Anyone who has ever been through a difficult point in their lives (i.e., everyone) has probably heard the phrase “it will get easier with time” or “you just need to move on”. But what does it actually mean to move on? And more importantly, how do we do it?
In this blog I am going to use the word “trauma”, and I am using it to sum up any intensely distressing experience that we may have had. Whether it is a relationship breakdown; the loss of a job; a genuine threat to physical or psychological wellbeing; we all experience things that we want – or need - to be able to “move on” from. But for a process that is so universal to people, why can it be so difficult? Surely it would be something that we would just know how to do? There is no cut and dry process to follow to move on from something. However, I heard a saying a long time ago that spoke volumes to me: You have to feel it to heal it. Now, read that again. These eight words are confronting in their simplicity and their accuracy. To be able to move on from something, we have to allow ourselves to feel all the feelings that come with the aftermath of whatever it is we have been through.
The problem with this of course, is that we don’t wantthese feelings. Also, we want to know exactly when these feelings are going to stop giving us trouble. Nobody wants to recall how they felt during an attack over and over again. No one wants to stay caught up in an old relationship – so how do we stop it from happening? Put simply, we cant. We can certainly engage in behaviours that will help avoid these things for a little while at least, but at the end of the day all it does is provide temporary relief while the problem remains unchanged, lurking beneath the surface. And as soon as we finish the distracting behaviour (be it drinking; sleeping; working too much) the feelings come rushing back. So what is the alternative? It’s a concept called “acceptance”. Let me be clear – this is not acceptance of whatever has happened to cause these feelings, but acceptance of the emotions we are having as a result.
The premise behind acceptance is that we allow the feeling, whether it is wanted or unwanted, to just “be there”. We recognise it, we watch what it is doing, we approach it with curiosity, and we allow it to just be. At the same time, we make a conscious decision to act in a way that gets us close to where we ultimately want to be. Let’s use an example to illustrate just one way that someone might practice acceptance. Someone who has experienced an assault might encounter feelings of anxiety, desperation, panic and a whole combination of feelings. When the feelings come on they would first acknowledge it – “I’m having a flashback”; “here is that feeling of panic”; “I’m feeling really betrayed”. Next they would notice the physical manifestation of that feeling (butterflies; a lump in their throat etc) and then open up their body around the feeling and actually make room for it to be there. If the feelings are really intense they would ground themselves, and then do something, anything, that gets them closer to what they want to be doing. Make a coffee; go for a run; text their friend back. An important part of the process is to recognise that these feelings are a normal part of being a human who cares about things, and even though we don’t want them, they are allowed, and supposed to show up. We also need to keep in mind that all emotions are fluid, and even if it doesn’t seem like it, they will always evolve and change.
Even though it can be uncomfortable, acceptance can allow our brains to process trauma.This lets us put all the puzzle pieces where they need to be, so we can, over time, heal and continue to live our lives the way we genuinely want, and not just as a product of our experiences.
If you are interested in discussing any of the points further, we would be more than happy to hear from you. Feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will answer any questions you may have.